Not in the Inventory, by W. J. Howard

I entered this story--originally titled "Lost and Found"--in Writer's Weekly 24 hour writing contest, and I just got the results back yesterday. Unfortunately I didn't hoo. They provided the first couple paragraphs of the story and I had to finish it in 900 words or less within 24 hours. I actually had a lot of fun writing this one Saturday afternoon and plan to enter the next contest. Hope you enjoy it. Oh, and if you wanna read the winning stories, go to


The bells on the door echoed as she stepped further into the old toy store. Luis winked at her and turned back to his black and white television set. She reached under the rack on the back wall and pulled it out. The doll was just where she'd left it last week. She approached the counter and put it down.

Luis turned to her, grabbed the doll with surprise, and said, "This is NOT for sale." She froze, her innocent eyes staring up at him. “Where did you find this?”

The girl turned and ran from the store.

“Come back here!” Luis ran after her, but when the girl saw him approach, she ran faster. “Stop!” he warned. Luis cringed and turned his head as the girl ran into the path of an oncoming car. Her tiny body flew into the air and she landed on the sidewalk across the street. She was dead, just like the others had died.

Tears welled in his eyes as Luis walked back into the toy store hanging his head.

When Luis bought the toy store the previous owner failed to disclose the doll was part of a package deal, but Luis could hardly blame her.

Three months had passed since he last saw the doll. Luis remembered taking it away from a seven-year-old girl. He refused to sell it to her aunt. After they left, he took the doll to the dumpster and set it on fire. Now the doll had returned, looking like brand new. He never found out the fate of the girl.

Shortly after taking over the business, Luis sold the doll to a young girl who turned up missing. Two weeks later local hikers found her molested corpse off Highway 67. Luis recognized her face on the local news, but didn’t considered a connection to the doll.

Two months passed before another young girl bought the doll. The following week Luis recognized her face in the newspaper. The girl drowned during a tragic boating accident.

Luis thought it odd that both girls had bought the same type of doll, but dismissed the two deaths as coincidental.

All remained quiet until two days after Luis completed an annual inventory. A father brought his daughter into the store, and Luis was puzzled when the little girl placed the doll on the counter. Luis was sure the doll was not in the inventory.

“Where did you find this?” Luis asked. Neither the father nor the daughter could answer.

Five days later, while flipping through the newspaper, Luis recognized another familiar face. The headline read, Man shoots ex-wife and daughter, then self. The photo of the murderer was the latest purchaser of the doll.

Luis could not believe his eyes. He rushed to his office clutching the newspaper and searched for the man’s credit card receipt. His heart sank when he found that the name on the receipt matched the name in the newspaper.

A few months passed before the mother of an adorable four-year-old girl placed the doll on the counter. Luis stared down at the doll. “I’m sorry, but this doll is not for sale.” Tears welled in the girl’s eyes. “It’s okay. I have a doll in the back I bet you’ll love.” Luis brought out another doll and handed it to the girl. “She looks just like you.” A smile returned to her face as she took the replacement doll from Luis.

“How much is it?” asked the mother.

“Same price.”

She paid for the doll, and the two hurried from the store.

Luis watched the two get into a car parked outside the store. Luis was sure he had saved the girl’s life until he saw the mother pull the doll from her purse and hand it to her daughter. Ten days later Luis read the headline, Man shakes girlfriend’s daughter; girl dies. A picture of the victim was unmistakably that of the little girl Luis had tried to save.

Now, after watching the latest girl get hit by the car, Luis sat staring at the black and white television set. The bells on the door echoed and an impeccably dressed woman talking on her cell phone, and her spoiled daughter entered the toy store. The girl pointed at the doll laying on the counter. “Mommy look at that dolly. I love it! I want it!”

“I’m sorry. This doll is not for sale,” said Luis.

“But I want it!” she shrieked and stomped her foot.

“Holly stop. I’ll get you the doll.” The woman rubbed her temple. “Are you sure it’s not for sale?”

“Yes. I’m sure.”

“I don’t care. I want it,” wailed the girl.

“Just sell it to me so she’ll shut up.”

“You don’t understand,” he replied.

“No, you don’t understand.” She opened her purse and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. “Will this change your mind?”


“I want the doll!” The girl screamed.

Luis expression turned threatening. “Get out!”

The woman turned and dragged her daughter out of the store.

After they left, Luis searched his Rolodex and pulled out a business card. He dialed a phone number on the card.

A woman answered.

“Estelle Singer please.” She was the listing agent when Luis bought the toy store.

“This is Estelle.”

“Estelle, this is Luis Arnold. I need to sell the toy store.”

Estelle laughed.


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